Number of children with special educational needs falls by 70,000

 SEN TESTING

The number of children diagnosed with special education needs has plummeted by 70,000 after the government announced a crackdown.

In 2011-12, 1.62 million pupils were labelled as having some form of learning difficulty, behavioural problem or speech impediment.

This fell last year to 1.55 million - a difference of almost five per cent in just 12 months.

SEN diagnoses have been viewed with some suspicion as they can be used to claim extra funds and are taken into account when assessing exam results - potentially improving a school's place in league tables.

Three years ago a damning Ofsted report estimated 450,000 children had been classed as SEN to hide poor teaching.

The Coalition subsequently announced it was tackling the problem by introducing tougher screening measures.

Figures from the Department for Education show a quarter of boys (943,430) officially have a problem that affects academic performance - almost double the 511,570 girls.

Girls were more likely to have hearing impairments and moderate learning difficulties, while boys had a greater chance of autism or behavioural, emotional or social difficulties.

The rate among children receiving free school meals - a key indicator of poverty - was 30.1 per cent compared to 14.1 per cent among those from more affluent homes.

Black children were the most likely to be diagnosed with special needs. The lowest rates were among Chinese and Indian families.

Pupils with SEN are 11 times more likely to be permanently excluded and five times more likely to be suspended on one or more occasions.

Those with a statement of special educational needs - which can release extra money, staff time and equipment - are eight times more likely to be expelled and six times more likely to be suspended at least once.

Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, said schools were still 'miles away from a real figure for SEN'.

He added: 'Schools have a vested interest in identifying children as having SEN as it attracts extra funding and tends to disguise failures in teaching.

'The tragedy for children with genuine need is that resources are being spread very thinly as a result.'